Friday, December 14, 2012

Greenhouse :: Hoghouse

Inside a Farrowing Greenhouse at Becker
Lane Organic Farms.
Do you ever find yourself answering your own questions? On Wednesday I wrote about how (with expansion in mind) I thought it was time to add a hoop building to the farm for winter farrowing and winter housing for the grower pigs, but the thing that had always been holding me back was the thought of keeping the building empty for the spring, summer, and fall as the pigs are out on the pasture. Then I randomly found a three-ring binder from the "National Conference on Hoop Barns and Bedded Systems for Livestock Production" (nice short name huh?). As I thumbed through the material I came upon this little tidbit in the "Alternative Systems for Farrowing in Cold Weather" booklet ... "Greenhouse with Radiant Tube Heating".

You can read the article that I came across by checking out this .pdf and scrolling down to page 9. A little more searching turned up this gem from Jude Becker of Becker Lane Organic Farm. The second link there is really a great summary of data and pictures of his greenhouse/hog house construction. Mr. Becker's building was quite a bit more advanced than I was contemplating with it's in floor heating and wood boiler, concrete floor and walls, and eventually it was divided into quadrants with a feeding system. You will also find that his results were much less than stellar, but I think it does give me something to think about for the future.

Some time ago I watched a video online about a farmer that was using a traditional hoop house for winter farrowing. He was using deep-bedding and his pasture huts for farrowing, but also had a heat lamp in the creep area of each hut and a radiant heat tube hanging at the peak. This particular farmer said his goal was to keep the building slightly above freezer so that the sows would be forced out of the common area and into the huts for farrowing. In my somewhat warmer Southern Iowa climate having two layers of plastic with air between them (provided by a fan) may help keep the main area around that 32┬║ some or much of the time.

There are always downsides to every system though. Many of the fabric hoop house owners that I have spoke with tell me that they have had the same tarp on their buildings for 15 years and some even longer. With the plastic I'm sure it would have to be replaced much more often than that and there would be costs and labor associated with that. The benefit that has me most interested in this system though is the ability to have a secondary use for the building in the summer ... by growing some sort of crop once the pigs out out! Of course there is no real "need" for a greenhouse when I would be using it, but maybe I can figure out something instead of having an empty building.

I would love to have a discussion on this topic, or hear any thoughts you all have on the viability of this type of building. Plus ... if you have any suggestions on crops that could be raised in the building ... well ... I'm open to suggestions!


Viki said...

Living in the Deep South hoop houses are used to grow/start early crops of tender veg like tomatoes, cucumbers etc. Also used to extend the growing season. I find that the hoop houses are more work than help. For your situation though you could grow long season veg like okra and indeterminate tomatoes for sale as long as you had a good watering system in place.

Rich said...

I don't have pigs, but for some reason the ideas behind the Swedish deep bedded hoop house system has always kind of interested me.

From what I've read, the key to the idea is the "deep bedding" part, which I didn't really see in any of your links.

You might have already seen it (or I might have originally seen it on your blog), but there is a description of a couple different deep bedding barns (including a greenhouse) at:

It sounds like they start out with a thick layer of bedding and continue to add more each week. It starts to compost in a couple of weeks and starts to heat the building (although they heat the greenhouse at night).

I would guess that using a greenhouse might give you a slightly healthier pig because of the sunlight exposure (which might increase Vitamin A or D levels?).

But, I would also wonder about snow loads with a greenhouse if you are in a high snow fall area.

I'm not sure what I would grow in a greenhouse except for growing typical garden vegetables for home use. I might try my hand at growing some giant watermelons since they like high heat, high fertility, and are kind of interesting (there might even be a market for a 200 lb. watermelon).

Jeremy Elwell said...

I would consider a crop that the hogs could eat throughout the winter. Ive read about potatoes that the hogs could root for during winter months. I believe Salatin's pigaerator is similiar except he uses a deep bedding for his cattle, while burying corn all winter, then the pigs come through and aerate it all. When their done he has a very usable compost ready for the fields.

I would research some permaculture approaches. Grow something that will benefits the pigs winter foray in the hoop. Then a deep bedding over the winter will provide a superb planting ground come spring.

Another last thought: make it portable(towable by tractor?) and use it to raise meat birds...I think growing a crop for human consumption may be difficult due to summertime heat buildup, but it could be worth a try.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

This is really in response to your post a couple of days ago about marketing to restaurants. We would love to share our experinces. Good and bad. We sold direct to them for 3 years, then decided to put most of our effort into selling out of our own on site farm store. If you'd ever like to pick our brains feel free to email me . No need to recreate the wheel!

Bruce King said...

I built a hoop house for winter farrowing and housing of my hogs, a tensioned fabric building from farmtek.
Concrete floor and ecology block sides so that it can be cleaned with a front loader without any risk of damage to the structure, it takes about 200 yards of wood chips to fill.
Three months into it, I'm pleased. The bedding is composting and that keeps it well above freezing. I've split it into two sections; one for sows farrowing, and the other for the main herd, and so far so good.

pictures of the completed barn

filling the barn with litter

condition of litter and general comments a month later

condition of the litter two months after filling

Bruce King said...

I have used hoophouses to house pigs during the winter. Here's some pictures of 200 feeders in a hoophouse.

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